This unwillingness to discuss private time with colleagues reveals both the German distaste for small talk, but also the German desire for privacy.
Germans have a clear and robust sense of what should be in the public domain and what should not, and although there are exceptions for good friends, finding out what your colleagues get up to outside of work requires military grade interrogation techniques.
With waterboarding out of the question, I am left with little recourse other than to linguistically trap colleagues into giving away small details of their lives. The excruciating process of trial and error can last for years, until one day a colleague feels comfortable enough to actually tell you directly what they get up to when not at work.
If you’ve done any research into German culture, you’ve likely come across blogs, articles and forum discussions on the subject of German directness. Less politically-correct results may even simply state that Germans are rude.
It’s a topic of discussion as old as time; or, at least, as old as the Internet’s mainstream popularity. There is a lot of material on the subject, and it all basically comes to the same conclusion: Germans aren’t rude; they’re just direct and honest. If you can’t handle it, you need to grow a thicker skin (you big cry baby).
One of the many clichés about Germany and the Germans says that they act in a not very friendly or even rude manner towards strangers. You might get that impression when you first come to Germany and try to get to know somebody else on a train, a bar or at work.
Especially as an American, you might be used to getting in contact with strangers really quickly. In Germany, you probably won’t. It is a scientifically proven fact that German people simply don’t chat in public places when they don’t know each other. But what is often interpreted as rude manners, is more like a basic inability of Germans to small talk – they simply are not used to it.
False friends, ridiculous grammar and never-ending nouns. German is by no means an easy language, but it has its funny side too, as we find out in this week’s episode of Meet the Germans.
“I love all the ‘thing’ words we have: Feuerzeug = fire thing (lighter) Fahrzeug = driving thing (vehicle) Spielzeug = play thing (toy) Werkzeug = craft/labour thing (tool) Or some of our animals: Nilpferd = nile horse (hippo) Nashorn = nose horn (rhino) Stachelschwein = spike pig (porcupine) Waschbär = wash bear (raccoon) Faultier = lazy animal (sloth) Schnabeltier = beak animal (platypus)”
“Yeah german gets a lot easier when you understand that most of these long words are just two short words connected.”
“I’m german and i got the impression that mostly negative things about the german language circulate the web, like it sounds rough, unfriendly, is difficult to learn and overly complicated. It’s really nice seeing it in a positive, funny and native way and i hope it helps foreigners to see it in a different light. We are and used to be famous for our writers and poets, so the language has to be fit for that kind of work and those people also benefitted the language in that regard. On the other hand we are famous for our engeneering and our scinetists so another major part of our language is logical, accurate and descriptive. Our language has multiple different layers which are often overlooked, quite understandably to be honest, and I think the german language is beautiful in its own, rough mantled way. :D”
Observations of a young German woman in Cincinnati, Ohio in the U.S.
This comment gets it right: “My experience with small talk is that it starts light and superficial, but the longer it goes on, the more personal it gets. It’s as if both are sending out feelers to find out how deep (or long) the conversation is going to be and to make sure both can end it (or back off) at any time without things getting awkward.
The answer to ‘how are you’ (‘hey, what’s up?’ actually) is always expected to be short, but can be open ended to lead the other person to probe deeper if they wish, such as, ‘okay I guess, I got some stuff going on.’ The other person can back off and say, ‘yeah, I hear ya’ and change the subject if they don’t want to go deeper, or respond with, ‘really? what’s going on?’ if they want you to open up more. Like a verbal tennis match where each hit gets harder to see how intense the game will be. I’m not sure I phrased it right, but I think you catch my meaning.”
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